Why I Hate The Term First Lady/Gentleman

In adopting the term First Lady or First Gentleman, the Black church may be in danger of creating a hierarchical structure that is unbiblical.

The Black church may have created a role that warrants reconsideration.

I want to pose a challenge to all of our readers. I’ll give $100 to the first person that can find the phrase First Lady or First Gentleman in Scripture as it pertains to the Church. If my wife knew I made this promise, she’d probably have me sleeping on the couch tonight. But I’m just that confident it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as a First Lady or First Gentleman when it comes to the Word of God. They are fabricated, idealistic titles that have invaded Black church culture. I’ve written previously about my disgust with the term on A&E’s show “The Sisterhood”, which closely followed the lives of a group of women who deemed themselves First Ladies. But this week, I think it turned into some righteous indignation (which is a good thing, I think). It’s table turning time.

But let me start with a brief history lesson. The African American pastor has, as long as I can remember, always held a distinguished position in the Black community. In my hometown, you can talk about Black teachers, Black politicians, and other Black public figures. But you bet no dare “put your mouth” on the man of God. There’s that “Touch not mine anointed…“ (see Psalm 105:15) thing going on there (a passage of Scripture that’s butchered from a contextual standpoint, by the way). The Black pastor enjoys certain privilege in the Black community. He has a nice parking space at the church, drives a nice vehicle (used to be a Cadillac), and gets fed well.

Enter the first lady. Because of the royal treatment of the black pastor, many of their wives benefit from fact that they are married to the shepherd of the church. Over the years, in the Black church, she has come to be known as the First Lady. As with any title, there are certain privileges that accompany the role of First Lady. Reserved seating is a no brainer. In some instances, she sits in the pulpit with her husband, while in other instances she is front and center in the pews. Depending on your context, an oversized hat may be involved. In that setting, nobody, I mean nobody, wears a hat larger than the church’s First Lady. That’s disrespectful. Regardless of context, certain things are expected of a First Lady. She’s to be supportive, highly visible, elegant, a prayer warrior, and, where children are involved, a great mother. That list is by no means exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of how Black culture has carved out a clearly defined role for preacher’s wives.

Yesterday I saw something related to the First Lady concept appear in my Facebook Timeline (because Facebook Timelines are basically our news sources these days). I checked out this picture of a pastor celebrating his third anniversary with his spouse. Honestly, my first thought was, “Is this real?” So I did what any sensible, intelligent person would have done. I googled the church. Sure enough, the church existed and the Pastor and his spouse just celebrated their third anniversary. The wording on the original flyer is what got my attention. The pastor’s spouse was referred to as the “1st Gentleman” of the church.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this pastor has a partner in a same-sex relationship. As such, that partner has embraced the role traditionally seen in the Black church in the context of heterosexual marriages—The First Gentleman. And this is not an anomalous occurrence. There are other First Ladies and Gentlemen out there in same-sex marriages helping lead churches.  Look, I’m not here to argue the merits of same-sex marriages. That screams red herring and will distract from the main point I’m making here. Well maybe I will say a few words. First, there’s no scriptural support for same-sex marriages and, as a minister, I wouldn’t officiate a wedding involving one. As “radically inclusive” as we make Jesus out to be,  Scripture is very clear about this issue. The fact that Jesus never condemned same-sex marriages in Scripture doesn’t automatically mean He condones the behavior. There are no specific teachings from Jesus or “red letter” passages on bestiality, pedophilia, or polygamy either. And no, I’m not making a direct comparison between those activities and same-sex marriages. I’m just saying that absence of teaching doesn’t mean that Jesus would condone certain human behavior. Trust me, this is huge and is something the Black church has to process and deal with in the coming years. According to a site dedicated to the community, there’s at least 7,100 documented gay-affirming churches. Some of them are led by pastors who themselves are in same-sex relationships. So there’s an active subculture in the Christian faith that has adopted the practices of the Black church. Among those practices is the adoption of our church leadership structure—including First Ladies (and now First Gentlemen).

But when folks adopt practices that are flawed in the first instance, I think the best approach here is the address those practices in their original context. So the main point I want to make here is that the Black church can’t keep hijacking cultural practices and slapping them in the church setting without seriously considering if we’re missing the mark. Can we eulogize the terms First Lady/First Gentlemen already? Like, for real, for real. Yes, 1 John address the “elect lady“. But scholars can’t even agree if the author is addressing a female leader in the church or the church as a body (Scripture often uses feminine terms to describe the church). Either way, there’s NO WAY we should use this text to excuse our canonization of First Ladies or First Gentlemen when it comes to church practice. Part of the reason we have so many problems in the black church is because we covout titles. That’s the antithesis of the Gospel message. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ himself took on the form of a servant. Paul, himself, hated titles (see Philippians 3). James, Jesus’ own brother (who could have plugged that fact in his letter), calls himself a term most Christians wore as a badge of honor in the first century—a servant. Does the New Testament address bishops, elders, deacons, and other leaders? Of course it does. But are we faithful to Scripture when we create our own structures, slapping titles on folks that don’t exhibit the accompanying fruit (oops, did I just say that)? Maybe, we should be less worried about titles and degrees and more concerned about worship on our knees. Many in the black community joked about worship-like atmosphere in the white smoke announcement of the Pope this week, but in reality we go to churches and worship our leadership weekly—including the First Lady and First Gentleman. The harsh reality is that if we don’t seriously think about making changes our places of worship will become museums with artifacts rather than places of transformation and change. And that’s a scary thought.

 

About the author, John C. Richards Jr.

John C. Richards Jr. is the Associate Director of Adult Content Development at Urban Ministries, Inc. (UMI). He has served as a guest contributor for Huffington Post's Black Voices column and has written devotionals for Streaming Faith, the world's largest online faith-based broadcasting portal. Visit his website, brotherpreacher.com and follow him on Twitter @brotherpreacher.
  1. Mr. Richards, thank you so much for this awesome, truthful article. My husband was just appointed to his first church and I made it clear to him and others in the church and the A.M.E. Zion denomination, I do not want to be called a First Lady. It creates an aura that a person is better than another or has a sense of royalty. I want people to know that I am a child of God trying to display the “Fruits of the Spirit” so that I can be used by him. Mr. Richards, I work in Hospice and one day I visited one of my patients, not on my regular work time, but one Sunday, I just went by to say hello and I took my husband. The patient said to me” Priscilla, I did’nt know you were married to a Minister? I asked him why did he say that and he stated “because you are so nice and down to earth. Usually the first lady of the church is uppity, if that is a word, so you see what we have created and the perception? As you stated, that is why the black church is having problems now because of this Primadonna attitude our community has created. Bottom line, just role your sleeves up and do God’s work. We need to be transforming mind’s and hearts, not hats, cars etc,

    • Thanks for sharing Priscilla. Looks like you’re doing some wonderful work in an environment that needs people like you. Blessings.

    • I agree whole heartily with Priscilla. I am a pastor’s wife and I hate being called “first lady”. Looks like people today mainly the black church is caught up with titles. Aren’t we suppose to decrease and Jesus increase in our lives? Seems like a lot off flesh on display in these days and times.

    • I a-hagree with the post. However could someone explain the – a-hem – “Primadonna” attitude (lol)?

    • Priscilla, your patient hit the nail on the head, and this is not just a few churches, but most black churches. At the present I will be looking for another church to attend, because my Church has lost what it started out with. I feel that most of the Congregation are not aware of their position within the church, because when a church is run completely by family member, we began to lose insight on what’s going on, and most people will not ask or request information in regard to the place the worship at. What they should know is that the pastor and his wife work for the, because the congregation pays their tithing and put money for special collection in the basket, and they should have a say in every thing they plan for the church if they are interested. As for the First Lady, which is not anything biblical has caused much discomfort in the church, from waiting on her hands and foot, purchasing her a mink coat, taking care of “Her” children while attending service, and a attitude that’s out of this world with her thinking she above and beyond all the other ladi

  2. I too despise the term “first lady” when referring to the Pastor wife! I wouldn’t be a part of a church that has a “first gentlemen”. So that is a moot point. The ultmate pastor’s wife is the one makes it her primary purpose to minister to her husband. Forget about the being the president of this, that, and the other thing, just make sure all her husbands needs are met. No one else can meet ALL the pastors NEEDS like his wife. JMO

  3. As a Minister and M.Div student (Regent University) I cannot say “AMEN!” enough for this uncompromisingly truthful post. I cannot tell you how sickened I am about the amount of “idolatry” in African-American churches I have attended, as it relates to leadership (even the ‘first lady”). Of course there is so much bad theology floating around in African-American churches, I cannot begin to start a discourse on that. But thanks again.

  4. AMEN! AMEN! and AMEN! I could not have said it more eloquently and straight-forwardly. I’ve always wondered who knighted her (smile). I too have grown to hate that title and until I read this, I never heard of the first gentleman. The church has really lost the fear of God and is fast becoming an object of mockery. But I am still believing God for national revival and repentance in the body of Christ.

  5. I used to belong to a church that had a female pastor and the husband was referred to as the First Gentleman.. So not all… “First G’s” are from same gender churches as the writer surmises. I will acknowledge that as a community we do put more emphasis on titles then what is really relevant at times… Yet it does reaffirm that from a pastor to his/her congregation that my marriage is important and if you respect me you should respect the one who labors with me in and out of church. The old mentality was that a minsiter had to sacrifice home and family to “serve” in the church. Not true at all it should be something supported as a family. Scipture does support clergy being the husband to one wife only…. so their should be an example.

    • I somewhat agree with the majority of comments listed. I especially agree with Bishop’s comments concerning the marriage. Marriage was instituted before there was ever a church and unfortunately some people respect the Pastor however have no regards for his wife. My husband and I are young pastors and we have a lot of young people in our congregation. I am a down to earth person and I never ever and I mean ever act as if I am above anyone but yet I am disrespected to the highest not by all but by a few who unfortunately would like my seat. I do not disagree or agree with the term 1st Lady. I can imagine why/how it was derived because of the many struggles some pastor’s wifes more than likely faced. Unfortunately a title alone will not keep people from disrespecting the Pastor’s wife however it may help as a reminder of who she is in that house. Titles do not make people people make the titles. At this present time most titles are being misused and abused especially Apostles. I have never seen so many Apostles in all my life. One thing about titles, they come with a price therefore for one to attach a title to themselves of which they have not paid for is to invite unnecessary trouble, trials, and tribulations into their lives. My husband was a pastor before he even came into this world and I was chosen/eklektos as his wife before the foundation of the earth therefore whether I am called 1st Lady, Elect Lady or Lady April I am his wife, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh and we move together as one in and out of the ministry. So when asked my title I say call me April … why… because I know who I am in the body of Christ and at home.

  6. was sharing within a group setting and the subject of a special meeting for the Pastor Wive’s. And to my amazement, a man who ws present objected to the idea of having a meeting for the “Pastors Wives” His premise was there ought to be something for the men. When I informed him that there was a meeting for the “Laymen” he objected and stated that he was a Pastor’s husband and that meeting with the ORDINARY MAN was not appropriate for a Pastor’s Husband. Yep, gotta have that title!

    • Whether it is a pastor’s wife or pastor’s husband, the church, the body of Christ has truly lost it’s mind and forgotten what it means to be a servant. Isn’t it amazing that when Christ came, He said “I did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and give My life….Matt. 20:28. He even humbled HImself and became obedient unto death. The problem with Pastors, their wives and husbands is, no one wants to die, no one wants to humble themselves, no one wants to serve. But I do believe that in the midst of all of this nonsense, God does have pastors with spouses after his heart, who do not have a sense of entitlement, they know deep down that God could have chosen someone else for the position they hold, but He chose them instead. That is such a privilege, it is just too sad that it is being abused.

  7. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!! a very powerful read!!! thanks!!!!

  8. Love it! This should be posted in the Washington Post……..But there is a typo “husbad” should be “husband”

  9. just so happen to look up what First Lady really means, and I stubbled upon this site, and what a powerful insight of truth that hit my soul. You gave scripture to back up your voice, and the Word of God is all you need, Hosea Chapter 4:6-6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. So thank you, will be reading more new posts for now on.

  10. Brother John C. Richards Jr. I would like to dialogue more extensively concerning this contention issue. I agree with you that the term, first lady, is not biblical. I do not necessarily have a problem admitting that there have been post biblical developments in the Christian church that are not anti-scriptural. For instance, I do not think that the issue of proper church government can be resolved solely from reading the New Testament canonical scripture.

    Apart from the roles of the Apostles and perhaps the N.T. prophets, it seems that church leadership was flexible based on the particular needs of the Christian communities established by specific apostles. I do not think it can be demonstrated from scripture that the governmental structure of the Apostle Paul, for example, is necessarily identical with the Johannine and Petrine communities.

    A lot of the incessant contention between various Protestant traditions assumes that the Apostle’s doctrine was more specific in terms of practical matters than the text or the non-canonical literature will allow for. With that being said, I am sure that the role of the pastor’s wife, which is indeed important is not supported by scripture at all. While it is easy to demonstrate from the pastoral epistles that married elders are expected to have homes that are examples of Christian virtue, it cannot be demonstrated that pastor’s wives are supposed to be honored more than the other members. The only direct mention of an apostle’s wife is Peter’s; and that is only in order to explain why the Lord was at his house healing his mother-in-law. We know from church tradition that most of the apostles were in fact married. The fact that their wives are not discussed in the word of God directly but only their companions in ordained ministry speaks against the idea implicit in Evangelical traditions and explicit in Black Church traditions that pastor’s wives are elevated above other women and should be honored and double honored with the teaching elder role is simply out of step with the word of God.

  11. This statement is not directed to anyone in particular but is in regard to the post. I honestly feel that people are so judgmental. I would really like to know which one of you on this post has been to every african american church around the globe.. Because just about everyone who has commented on the post has said most or some of the black churches do this and that. I can almost guarantee that most of you most likely haven’t been to more than 500 different african american churches. So i’m gonna be frank. Half of you alls problem is your church has the wrong spirits in and you too lazy or too blinded to pray them out so you whine and complain about the wrong. You need to be seeing if the elect lady/ or first lady you chose was sent by God and not somebody you chose from the flesh. Or maybe it isnt meant for you to pastor where you are. Now frankly i see nothing wrong with being called and elect lady but first lady is a problem because that implies a second lady which i don’t think a pastor would have. So in short make sure you belong where you are as pastor, elect lady, or member and instead of whine like babies about the bad of your church how about you fix it with prayer or action.

  12. Wow, Brother. I really wanted to finish this because you were on such a good path. Then…well…you got distracted and started out on homosexuality with all your prejudices embarrassingly in full view. As you thought you might, you lost me at that right (or left) turn you made and totally jeopardized your whole main point.

  13. I want to thank you so much for this very needed article. Up until now I was beginning to believe that I was the only one who had a problem with the contrived title of “First Lady” in the church. A pastor’s spouse has no (or should have) no advantage over other members of the church. She is simply the lady who happens to be married to the pastor and is only a member of that particular church body nothing more and nothing less. There are only two offices in the church, that of pastors and deacons. The Bible as says nothing about the pastors wife being lifted up above and over the other women of the church. I even heard a pastor call his wife and son “the first family.”

  14. The word of God said thou shalt not have no other God before me I truly believe that a pastor can honor his wife so shall the church but God should be first in all things